Twenty-five year old Ondřej Ťoupal has played hockey from an early age at the top level. After years working hard every day, he voluntarily gave up hope to play his favorite sport professionally and move on to another demanding goal. He was not afraid of this step, and he made the right decision. “I wish that my life story would inspire young hockey players and their parents to work hard on the ice and at school at the same time,” says Ondřej Ťoupal, M.D.
“First, I would like to say that I am very happy that I played hockey and will forever stay a hockey player in my heart. I still love hockey, although now I only watch my former teammates play. It is an important part of my life, which I will always remember, mainly because of the excellent team and success we have achieved together. On the other hand, I am happy that I decided not to proceed further in my career and become a surgeon. I do not regret that decision at all, and I’m glad that some people in the club made it easier for me.
“For me, as for every other young hockey player, the biggest dream was to play in the NHL. But this dream was slowly disappearing as I got older. The biggest sign that I probably wouldn’t play hockey professionally was when I was in my first year as a junior in Ceske Budejovice. We had a great team lead by the best striker in the entire junior extraleague, Jakub Matušík, who in the mid-season leading league’s scoring was barely given any chance by coach Jandač. I realized then that a similar fate awaited us all, so I redirected my efforts towards education, and then hockey became a hobby. I went to Czech-English gymnasium, and I was one of the very few teammates who was in school. Everything culminated in my senior year when I was also in the last year in junior league. For me it was the priority to get to the Medical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. School took precedence over morning practices, which of course meant a decreasthe e in quality of my performance and problems with coaches who did not understand my situation. Then, I played with almost no incentive for further growth in my hockey career.
“Often people ask me why I decided to end my hockey career. Some have criticized my decision, and others agree with it. People tried to tell me that if I had stayed for another couple of years, I would be able to play he top division for men which I wanted to be a part of when hockey was still the priority in my life.
“I am very pleased that my father — former national team forward and hockey coach, approved my decision and supported me. Even when he didn't fully understand my decision, he never tried to force me to continue with hockey. He could see that I was clearly determined to pursue my new dream of becoming a doctor.
“When the hockey stage of my life had ended, I got to the 3rd Medical Faculty of Charles University with excellent grades and was freshly motivated to start the life which appeared before me. It was a very difficult process to change gears so suddenly, but the decision was worth it. I am upset when I see some of my teammates, who were really very good, did not get a chance to become successful in hockey and with no degree, ended up unhappy in average jobs. I wish that young hockey players would have the chance to study as much as play hockey, because without education, a good job is incredibly difficult to find. It is a pity that the Czech Republic can not reconcile elite sport and university studies like in the United States, where a brilliant NCAA scholarship program exists.
“Today, I often hear that being in the junior hockey league and studying in high school are impossible to do at the same time. That is not true. It is thus extremely important to understand this duality from both sides: the school, and the coaches. But where there’s a will there’s a way. I understand that compared to other teammates I had great academic promise, but if my teammates were given the opportunity, I am sure they would go to school and learn.
“I still watch hockey, although lately, I have not had as much time for it as before. I support especially my former teammates and friends. Mainly Ruda Červený, also Kovář brothers and Roman Horák, or Martin Hanzal in the NHL.
“I hope that in the future Czech youth hockey would move to the American level, where they can study and play hockey at the same time and where the guys are not forced to decide whether they want to play or study, so they can reach their wide variety of personal goals."